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Author of To Live has a new book out


Yu Hua, the author of To Live, which Zhang Yimou turned into an award-winning movie, has written new novel.

Brothers兄弟》 is Yu's first fiction in a decade, and at over 400,000 characters it's nearly as long as his previous three novels put together. It narrates events from the 1960s, through the Cultural Revolution, and up to the present day - basically the span of Yu's own life.

Yu describes this novel as a break with his past techniques:

This novel avoids the narrative finesse I've used in my previous novels, and instead employs head-on narration similar to the "strong narration" of Dostoyevsky or Dickens. Upping the narrative strength lengthens the book; my previous novels weren't very long because their narration wasn't strong enough.

Within this direct narration, there are still the absurd situations that Yu is known for. In an interview with The Beijing News he decribes a scene in which the father of a peeping-Tom drowns in a latrine when he goes peeping himself.

This year we're also looking forward to more of Yu Hua on screen. A television adaptation of To Live is nearly complete. Titled Fugui (after the main character), it will tell in 30 episodes what Zhang Yimou's movie managed in two hours, and it remains to be seen whether the actors can come anywhere close to Ge You and Gong Li. And if all goes well, a movie based on Chronicle of a Blood Merchant, Yu Hua's last novel before Brothers, should start shooting by the end of the year.

Here's what Yu Hua says about writing Brothers in his afterword:

Five years ago I began writing a novel that never got completed, a narrative of a century. In August 2003 I went to the US, spending seven months there going from place to place. When I returned to Beijing, I found that I had lost the desire to write a long narrative, and afterwards I began writing Brothers. This is a novel born out of the intersection of two eras. The first is a story of the Cultural Revolution, a time of fanaticism, repressed instincts, and tragic fates, similar to the European Middle Ages. The second is a story of today, a time of subverted ethics, fickle sensuality, and every kind of phenomena, even more like the Europe of today.

A westerner would have to live four hundred years to experience the vast differences of the two eras, but a Chinese would only need forty years for the experience. Four hundred years of turbulent changes compressed into forty years makes for a full, precious experience.

The two brothers are the band linking these two eras. The fragments of their lives fragment yet again, and from their joys and sorrows burst forth even more joys and sorrows. Like the two eras themselves, their fortunes are in upheaval, and in the end they must settle old scores and reap what they have sown.

At first I had in mind a novel of about 100,000 characters, but the narrative took over my writing and the length passed 400,000. Writing is strange like that; it expands outward from a narrow beginning, and from a broad beginning it contracts. This is just like a person's life. People who start out on a wide road often find themselves with nowhere to go, and those who set off from twisty alleys can reach the farthest frontiers. So Jesus said, "Enter through the narrow gate." He warns us, "for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it." I feel that whether in writing or in living, the right way to start is through the narrow gate. Don't be seduced by the breadth of the large gate, since the road beyond does not go very far.

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